Top teams


When Miraval opened its Life in Balance Spa with Clarins it was an important milestone for the team. We talk to them about how their strategy has been a springboard to greater things

AOL founder, Steve Case, purchased Miraval through his company Revolution in 2004 from founders and co-owners, Bill O’Donnell and George Ruff – allegedly after having failed to strike a deal for the purchase of Canyon Ranch.

Philippe Bourguignon – fomerly at Club Med, EuroDisney and Davos – joined in 2006, becoming CEO of Miraval in 2009.

The resort had its best year ever in 2007 and then recession struck. The top team’s response was to re-focus on innovation, ensure they were optimising the resources they had and then to push forward with infrastructure investment, while controlling spending. The aim was to come out of the recession in the best shape possible.

The team also created strategic partnerships with Dr Andrew Weil, who has a clinic at the resort, National Geographic Expeditions and most recently Clarins, which has lent its name to one of the latest investments – the Life in Balance Spa with Clarins. The aim of these partnerships has been to find synergies between like businesses to drive growth and profitability.

On the development front, Miraval teamed up with designer Clodagh and architect Mithun to add 16 suites to the spa, and 16 homes to the resort – eight owned by Exclusive Resorts [a Revolution company] and eight under private ownership. The two-bed homes sold for US$2.2m (E1.6m £1.3m), and the three- beds at US$3m (E2.3m £1.9m) – well above the going rate for the local Tucson area, according to Bourguignon.

The resort’s kitchen and main restaurant have been refitted, while the spa – created from the shell of the old by a radical US$5m ("3.8m £3m) refurbishment and redesign – is the long- anticipated icing on the cake.

Philippe Bourguignon,


Miraval Resort & Spa

Philippe Bourguignon
Philippe Bourguignon

“When I became CEO,” says Philippe Bourguignon, “the marketing people were in charge, there was no innovation and Michael Tompkins, wasn’t empowered to take risks. So I changed the marketing people, promoted Michael and told him ‘go and innovate – make Miraval the best it can be.’

“We froze development for two years to focus on innovation, so we could use this as a base from which to grow, rather than spending on marketing an old product.

“We created a programme called Experts in Residence to get a flow of new ideas and then selected the best. This brought about improvements, but Miraval isn’t just about the programmes, activities and therapists – we also had to improve the facilities.

“The old spa didn’t reflect where Miraval was going – we were doing innovative treat- ments in an out-of-date facility, so we’ve in- vested in a total redesign to create the new Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins, with design by Clodagh and architecture by Mithun. The spa is stunning, warm, elegant and straightforward – and not bling bling. Clodagh has created a wonderful transition- al experience with the new entrance.

“Now we have the ideal product, our plan is to duplicate Miraval. We need to go to up- state New York, south-east USA, southern California and northern California/Oregon.

We don’t want loads – perhaps four to six over the next few years. [Mirval announced a deal with Natirar in 2013. Details,]

“We believe spa will develop as a prox- imity market – somewhere you can go on a two-day trip. As air travel gets more difficult and expensive, we think we can get half our clientele from within a two-hour drive.

“Spas are becoming mainstream,” says Bourguignon, “they used to be for idle wom- en, but they’re now part of people’s lives. The good they can do is incredible, most especially in enabling people to become more educated about how to stay healthy.

“People come to Miraval to discover something more about themselves. You don’t come to Miraval to change yourself, you leave Miraval having discovered that you can change yourself.”

Michael Tompkins,


Miraval Resort & Spa

Michael Tompkins
Michael Tompkins

When the economic crisis started,” says Michael Tompkins, “I sat with Philippe, Steve and spa director, Simon Marxer, and we agreed our strategy would be one of strength, innovation and creativity. We’d hold together as many components of Miraval as possible – including the team, many of whom have been here 15 years or more, so we didn’t disrupt the guest experience and we’d invest, so when the economy turned around, we’d come out of it strong and lead the industry.

“That investment has been wide rang- ing, culminating in the launch of our new Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins and we have plans now to continue invest- ing by upgrading the yoga studio.

“In designing the spa, we aimed for a ‘life enhancing minimalism’” says Tompkins. “At the opening, the designer – Clodagh – said: ‘We wanted to design a spa that has everything you need, but not one thing more.’

“To create exquisite spaces, Simon and I specified soundproofing and touch-con- trols for the treatments rooms, we linked inside and outside spaces and brought in art because it’s so very mindful.

“Quiet areas are one of Miraval’s signa- ture features so we separated operations from the guest areas: guests are now upstairs and staff downstairs, so they don’t mix, which is hugely important and we added a VIP suite – a spa within a spa, which Simon designed.

“We’ve been developing new treat- ments, for the new spa,” says Tompkins, “Miraval was the birthplace of the hot stone massage 17 years ago and we wanted to create some new, higher-value services using existing skills and facilities. I hoped Simon and his team would come up with the next big thing.

“They’ve developed more than 40 new treatments, among them our signature treatment, the Nâga. These unique fusion services are successful because they’re effective and this is the only place you can get them. Our guests are savvy spa-goers – they travel the world, going to the best spas. The fact they keep coming back is testament to what our team has created. I’m so grateful to Simon and the therapists for the amazing treatments they’ve devel- oped. I’m a massage therapist by training and I find they create a much longer period of relaxation that can hold for two to three days. When you’ve had a treatment that effective, you want to repeat it.”

So what kind of return rates does Miraval enjoy? Tompkins says it’s high and increasing “By typical hotel standards – ie, if your guest has returned two or more times in two years – it’s around 20 per cent, but if you look at total repeat visits it’s around 55 per cent.”

Typical guests are executive business women, women in groups and, says Tompkins, now Miraval has private villas – families with 18-25-year-old kids, who are coming so they can learn life skills and self-care before heading to college or getting married.

“The villas are sold out,” he says, “we’re at 95 per cent occupancy for those in the rental pool and we have 460 acres and the option to build more property. And people who move here to live full time on the property have gotten extremely healthy and are approaching their lives in the same way – ie, I’m going to be as healthy, strong, active and engaged in life as I can be. It’s great to see.”




Clodagh’s natural, pared down style de- fines Miraval’s new spa. “The biggest challenge was to make it look as though it belonged there,” she says “to pick up the Zeitgeist of the land in the choice of materials and the way the space is laid out and used.”

“Philippe’s a believer” she continues, “he bought in to the fact that as a designer, I work hard to make the invisible visible. When there’s energy to be picked up and transmitted for people’s wellbeing I do it. He understands the power of that approach, not just from a financial point of view, but the value of creating a place where people can go and not only have their body healed, but also their mind and spirit: it was fulfill- ing when I discovered Miraval wanted to create a mind/body/spirit experience.”

The spa at Miraval has been laid out as a journey “My job was to create an environ- ment where people could find themselves,” she says. “From the minute you cross the bridge – cross the water – there are tourmalines with cleansing energy and then the garden with its soft grasses, which are totally strokable, then the reflecting pool, the symbol and the door – and at night you have the fire pit. It’s a transitional walk.

“I wanted to create a series of moments where everywhere someone looks is beauti- ful, so they leave the spaces I’ve designed feeling supported and rejuvenated.

Spa guests first enter the spa lounge, which has access to a relaxation terrace with amazing views of the Santa Catalina mountains “I think it’s great from an environmental point of view that they didn’t knock the old spa down and the new one has been made out of the shell of the old,” she says.

The aim is also to be practical and create something enduring: “We work with the operations people,” she says, “and advise on the most environmental way to clean and maintain the materials we use.”

In addition to working on the spa rede- sign, Clodagh was also responsible for de- signing Miraval’s outdoor spa area, with its air conditioned spa treatment tents which are set in a desert garden. As a result, the design is consistent across the resort.

“I worked for seven years in Spain,” she concludes. “The Spanish have a saying: ‘tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.’ And I feel as though we’re all walking together on this project.”

Barry McCaffrey,

National director of sales, hotel and spa division,


Barry McCaffrey
Barry McCaffrey

Miraval will generate US$500k ("386k, £310k) in retail sales of Clarins products this year,” says Barry McCaffrey, “which is exceptional. It shows what’s possible with a substantial headcount and the right brand and marketing support.

“I have to give credit to Michael Tomp- kins and Simon Marxer and his team at Miraval,” he continues. “One of the keys to making a successful brand change is the people at the top. They need to cham- pion the brand and make sure everyone’s on board – that’s essential to success.

“When we presented to Miraval,” says McCaffrey, “we explained we have three million US consumers we can expose to Miraval. Our Spa Life game has a million users and, has 300k visitors a month. We also have 700 department store counters in the US and with retailer approv- al we can use these for marketing.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars building the Clarins brand and distribution network and we put that power behind Miraval’s marketing to drive sales. For example, Claire Courtin-Clarins visited and Marie Claire sent out a fashion photographer. The result was a 14 page feature on Miraval in Marie Claire’s US edition.

“Our only aim is to elevate our brand and to partner with the most authentic properties where we can elevate their brand in return,” says McCaffrey.

“At the moment, we’re working on a co-branded Miraval/Clarins retail spa kit”, says McCaffrey, it’s a way of expanding the exposure of our partnership to our customers and also raising the profile of Miraval in a way that benefits us both.”

“Some spas were hesitant about Clar- ins,” he says, “but they’re learning we’ve got 60 years’ experience in spa, and having Michael Tompkins advocating our brand and confirming it’s been achieving results has been a great thing for us.”

Simon Marxer,

Spa director,

Miraval Resort & Spa

Simon Marxer
Simon Marxer

The foundation of the Miraval experience is touch, so when creating services we steer clear of fashionable new equipment and focus on utilising the skills of our staff,” says Simon Marxer.

“For example, I was interviewing a new member of staff and found she was highly skilled in Thai massage and also trained in acupuncture and craniosacral therapy, so we worked with her to create the Chi Grounding and Chi Journey, which blend these modalities. They’re phenomenal treat- ments and have been popular with guests.

“Our new Nâga Thai treatment was developed by therapists Peter and Melanie who’d spent time in Thailand. The therapist is suspended on silks to enable a greater variety of angles and pressures and works with the client on flexibility and strength in a treatment based on Thai massage.

“In executing innovative treatments like these, you need very talented staff who are able to communicate intention and it’s im- portant to facilitate that special connection between them and the guests which can be so gratifying,” he says.

“We talk to our customers – they tell what treatments they like and we match them with a therapist. The more they share their needs and wants, the more we can help them.”

First person

Liz Terry,


Spa Business

My first impression of Miraval is of a place with a sense of purpose. It’s a resort which is being reborn, as the shiny new Clodagh-designed facilities – which suit the location so perfectly – replace the original much-loved, but dated, parts.

I stayed in an older-style room which is scheduled for an upgrade and although it was spacious, comfortable and clean, things like wonky wooden louvre doors on cupboards don’t make the grade these days and it will be great when the last of the old has been swept away.

The day at Miraval starts at dawn, with a range of desert hikes which ensure you’ve had a good dose of stretching, cardio and fresh air before breakfast. Personal choice reigns and guests are encouraged to go at their own pace, so some I met were undertaking activities on the hour every hour, while others were stretched out by the pool with a good book.

I mixed treatments, activities, classes and educational sessions and met quite a few peo- ple who were there to learn how to take better care of themselves so they could cope with stress – effectively seeking a body manual for living and carrying bulging folders of notes.

The new spa is simply beautiful, with great spaces and facilities. I had a mixed bag with the treatments – one of the best massages I’ve ever had, for example, but also a very average one. However, I understand the ethos of Miraval is to match guest and therapist with care and I arranged my second treatment on impulse without time for consultation, so this could ex- plain the less than great fit with the therapist.

There’s an occasional lack of attention to detail in housekeeping: the tea tray which was so kindly brought to me on my late arrival was still in my room when I checked out, for exam- ple, but there’s so much right about Miraval it would be churlish to dwell on this.

Overall I enjoyed the experience tremen- dously. The service is friendly and efficient, the place spotless and the location – with the wild desert and the backdrop of the mountains right outside your door – takes you out of yourself and connects you with nature at the very deep- est level. There’s even a juice bar that squeezes to order: my idea of heaven.

I opted for the Equine Experience – time spent with a small group, a horse and a thera- pist in a quest for self-knowledge – and found it extremely thought-provoking and unusual.

A friend who’s also experienced it remarked to me that anyone who had would always remember it and I agree completely.

Being in the desert, it’s unrealistic for Miraval to offer organic food, and although the food’s beautifully presented and delicious, I was a little disappointed by the lack of whole foods. However, when I queried this, I was told almost all guest are on special diets, so had I asked, it would have been provided.

I’m going back to Miraval soon for an update and am looking forward to it tremenously.

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